Thursday, July 30, 2009

Part Four: And so, Dear Reader, . . .

Part One: Les Etangs d'Ixelles
Part Two: The Course of True Love

Part Three: Poste Restante

2008. I turned seventy in October. Raising children and a professional life are memories now. I have lived alone longer than I ever did as a wife, and I am contented here in the Northwest where the climate reminds me of my native Belgium. It is a solitary life but a pleasant enough one filled with visits with children and grandchildren, new and old friends, art classes, books, my rose garden, sunny weeks in the French house I share with a friend.
Witnessing my granddaughters in the throes of young love inevitably evokes my own first love but I don't allow my heart to linger in that painful territory. Though I regret not sharing the simple pleasures of life with a companion, I have long ago come to terms with that sadness. It's a locked box relegated on a shelf in my memory.

December 6. My mother's birthday and the anniversary of bringing my new two-year old daughter home. I am not dreaming of either milestone when the phone wakes me up at 2:37 am. Instantly, the fear of unspeakable harm to my children fills me with panic.

-Françoise? (a faint Belgian voice ) Françoise? (Michel? Yes, Michel)
- Oui? (fear recedes but my mind goes blank)
- Do you know who this is?
- Yes. Yes. Of course I know. (does he imagine I could ever forget his voice!?)

I can't go back to sleep after that night's long emotional conversation. I am stunned. Literally. I sit on the edge of my bed and cannot put two thoughts together. I cannot figure out what I feel, too many contradictory emotions collide in my head and heart. Like Pandora's my box has burst open and all the ills and pains of that impossible love are washing over me. The urge to flee them is as strong as the temptation to believe Michel who is finally free and who for decades has held on tight in his heart to that one last nugget: hope.

Four months and many letters and phone calls later, still filled with misgivings, I wait for him in a hotel room in Brussels. My escape plan is ready just in case this meeting proves disastrous. Then, we are in each other arms and all is as it should be. The next 40 days are the happiest of our lives, "as though" to quote someone else, "after a parenthesis of 50 years, life is finally back on its normal course."


Living on separate continents creates many geographic, practical and legal complications. And so, Dear Reader, I will not marry him. We'll live sometimes here and sometimes there. Together. At long, long last together.

The end . . . and the beginning.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lies, All Lies

I know what it said about *rainy* Portland, well, just compare it to Southern California or the south of France for that matter . . .

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Glass Fusion 101

You need a teacher.

glass in many colors,

and a board on which to assemble your pieces.

When you're done, they are set on a kiln tray.

The next day you can see what you and your classmates achieved.

I made pendants and earrings,

and a Mondriaen-ish paper weight, and had great fun doing it!

Monday, July 20, 2009

John Day Slideshow

For those who enjoy looking at other people's pictures only.

It was hothothot and no breeze to speak of but the evening light was so beautiful that we stayed out clicking away till 9 p.m. This is truly "dead zone' country. Even my friend's Verizon cell phone stopped responding.

Over those two days I often thought of the pioneers who followed their wagons on foot across the continent. They must have been so weary while crossing over this barren unpromising country and then so elated when they reached the river and the green valley. What a day that must have been for them!

(The pictures should pop up to fill your screen by themselves. If they don't, try clicking on the arrows at the bottom right-hand corner.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Change of Scenery

My friend Eleni and I left Portland and Mount Hood behind us

and headed due east and south to new landscapes. Wheat fields and windmills

gave way to the John Day National Monument area where extraordinary sights delighted us:

a lovely moonrise,

unusual flora

forbiding rock citadels.

65 millions year old "painted hills", and

lava mounds.

Then we returned to more familiar landscape on our way back to Portland. All in all a memorable trip.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Part Three: Poste Restante

Part One: Les Etangs d'Ixelles
Part Two: The Course of True Love

1977. It's been 16 years since I left Europe. The Belgian girl of the 50's is gone, I am a working California mother of four, who just graduated from college. There is a husband, too, but we haven't been a couple for many years. After an absence of 12 years, I return for a visit to Brussels.

It's heady being back by myself and re-connecting with my family and friends. One evening, on an impulse, I look up M's name in the phone book and call. What did I expect? Just to have a catch up conversation and hang up? That he would invite me to share a drink ? I am taken unawares when a young boy's voice answers, "My dad isn't here." I explain I am an old school friend and leave my name and number.

Three days later I sit waiting on a public bench. He approaches from behind and puts his hands on my shoulders. (Later I thought, "If he hadn't touched me . . . ") I look up at pure happiness in his smile and in those blue eyes, and it hits me: the certainty I made a terrible mistake 20 years earlier. He takes my hand to lead me to a small restaurant. I remember only that I kissed him in the middle of the meal, and when we parted an hour later my life had changed irreversibly. This love is hopeless, of course. Spread over two continents, there are five young children and two spouses to be considered, and I am no Anna Karenina.

For 4 or 5 years we exchange music, like this Mireille Mathieu song, and anguished love letters addressed "Poste Restante". I manage return trips "home" and we steal hours of passion, guilt, love, followed always by the shattering pain of separation.

By 1982 I am single again. Our children have grown older but M's wife has become dependent and fragile and he feels honor-bound to stay by her side. We meet a few more times while I work in Europe in the late 80's, but nothing has changed and I am too disillusioned and resentful to stay in touch. Despite his pleas, I stop writing and deliberately close the door on memories and hope. I begin a new life, free but alone.